The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad has excluded lawyers, including seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), from the six present or future vacancies at the Supreme Court.
None of the 23 lawyers who heeded the CJN’s January 19 invitation and applied for the job is on a 29-man provisional list
The list, sent by Justice Muhammad, who doubles as Chairman, Federal Judicial Service Commission, to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), was received by its Judiciary Committee Chairman Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN, on May 27.
It comprises 29 Justices of the Court of Appeal from five geopolitical zones.
They are to fill six present or expected vacancies on the Supreme Court’s maximum 21-man bench.
The shortlist includes five jurists each from the Northcentral, Northwest, Southsouth and Southwest, while the Southeast has a nine-man jurist team.
The candidates and their zones are “A. Northcentral: 1. Justice Jummai Sankey, JCA, 2. Justice Stephen Jonah Adah, JCA, 3. Justice Sa’idu Tanko Hussain, JCA, 4. Justice Ridwan M. Abdullahi, JCA and 5. Justice Mohammed Baba Idris, JCA.
“B. Northwest: 1. Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel, JCA, 2. Justice Tani Yusuf Hassan, JCA, 3. Justice Mohammed Lawal Shuaibu, JCA, 4. Justice Jamilu Y. Tukur. JCA and 5. Justice Balkisu Bello Aliyu, JCA
“C. Southeast: 1. Justice Uzoamaka I. Ndukwe-Anyanwu, JCA, 2. Justice Chidiebere N. Uwa, JCA, 3. Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme, JCA, 4. Justice Theresa N. Orji-Abadua, JCA, 5. Justice Obande F. Ogbuinya, JCA, 6. Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam, JCA, 7. Hon. Justice Onyekachi A. Otisi, JCA, 8. Justice Ugochukwu A. Ogakwu, JCA, 9. Justice Kenneth Ikechukwu Amadi, JCA.
“D. Southsouth: 1. Hon. Justice Moore A. Abraham Adumein, JCA, 2. Hon. Justice Biobele A. Georgewill, JCA, 3. Hon. Justice Frederick O. Oho, JCA, 4. Hon. Dr. Justice Abimbola O. Obaseki-Adejumo, JCA, and 5. Hon. Justice Ebiowei Tobi, JCA.
“E. Southwest, 1. Hon. Justice Oyebisi F. Omoleye, JCA, 2. Hon. Justice Tunde O. Omotoye, JCA, 3. Hon. Justice Habeeb A. O. Abiru, JCA, 4. Hon. Justice Peter Olabisi Ige, JCA, 5. Hon. Justice Joseph Olubunmi Kayode Oyewole, JCA.”
Apart from the Southeast which will get two out of the six slots, and the Northeast which is excluded, the other zones will get one slot each on the apex court bench.
The CJN’s May 27 list requested the NBA to comment on the provisional shortlist of the nominated candidates.
Dr. Ajibade, who released the names of the shortlisted applicants in a June 13 letter seen by The Nation on Sunday, advised NBA members to send in their comments/petitions not later than Monday, June 27.
His letter, titled “RE: APPOINTMENT OF SIX (6) JUSTICES OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA” reads in part:
“By a letter dated 19th January 2022, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, Federal Judicial Service Commission, Hon. Dr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR requested, from critical stakeholders including the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the nomination of suitable candidates for consideration for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to fill six present and potential vacancies at the Supreme Court.
“On 7th February 2022, the NBA invited the expression of interest from suitably qualified members from the relevant geo-political zones.
“Further to the above, and pursuant to Rule III 4(i) and (iii) of the 2014 Revised National Judicial Council Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria, the Chief Justice of Nigeria has by a letter dated 27th May 2022 requested the NBA to comment on the provisional shortlist of the nominated Candidates.”
Responding to The Nation’s enquiry on whether the NBA was expecting another provisional list, Dr. Ajibade said the NBA would take up the matter with CJN Muhammad.
“We’re taking it up with the CJN. This is the only list we’ve received from the Federal Judicial Service Commission,” Ajibade said, adding that the association was concerned that “private legal practitioners who expressed interest don’t seem to have been considered.”
He hinted that NBA President Olumide Akpata would express the body’s concern to the CJN.
In January, CJN Muhammad was praised for including lawyers among those to be considered in the next round of appointments as Justices of the Supreme Court.
According to his January 19 letter to the NBA, six suitably qualified lawyers only would be selected from a pool of applicants from five of the country’s geopolitical zones.
The letter requested stakeholders including the NBA to nominate suitable candidates for the said positions.
Following this, the NBA nominated 23 lawyers, including seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and two women, for the job.
The 23 applicants are Mr Abugu Oromafunu (SAN), Mr Achara Ezekwesiri, Mr. Ademi-Akpeto Awolowo and Mrs. Joy Okungbowa (SAN).
Others are Mr. Mahmud Adesina (SAN), Mr. Adolor Onorieukuhakpo, Mr. Adelekan Ajayi, Mr. Ayoola Akande, Mr Ademola Alabi, Mr. Nuraddeen Ayagi, Mrs. Miannaya Essien (SAN), Mr. Udochukwu Ezeani, Mr. Chukwugekwu Ezenwa (SAN) and Mr. Omokhuwa Giwa.
The remaining are Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), Mr. Enya Nwocha, Mr. Edwin Obiorah (SAN), Mr. Ogbemudia Omoregie, Mr. Itoyah Otaru (SAN), Mr. Ujah Oyiwona, Mr. Stanley Princewill, Mr. Salisu Shuaibu, and Mr. Kadir Temim.
The CJN’s proposal responded to years of pressure by stakeholders, particularly the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), for its members and distinguished academics to be appointed to the topmost echelon of the nation’s judiciary.
The proposal was not implemented by successive CJNs since the tenure of Justice Mohammadu Uwais who served between 1995 and 2006.
Since independence, the last two apex court justices to have been appointed directly from the bar were ex-CJN Justice Teslim Elias in 1972 and Justice Augustine Nnamani in 1979.
In 2017, as part of proposed reforms in the administration of the justice system, the NBA forwarded the names of six SANs and three other lawyers to then-Acting CJN Justice Walter Onnoghen for consideration for appointment as Supreme Court Justices.
Then NBA President A.B. Mahmoud, had in a letter sent to the e-mails of all registered lawyers invited applications from suitably qualified legal practitioners to be appointed to the Supreme Court as provided in Section 231(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The section provides that: “A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria or a Justice of the Supreme Court unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period not less than fifteen years.”
Consequently, nine silks were shortlisted by the umbrella body of lawyers from 89 expressions of Interest that were received.
The nominees were – Olisa Agbakoba (SAN); Anthony Idigbe (SAN); former Abia Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Prof Awa Kalu (SAN); Yunus Usman (SAN) and Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN).
Others were Miannayaaja Essien (SAN) (1985, Rivers); Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN) (1978, Abia); Prof Awalu Yadudu (1979, Kano), Tajudeen Oladoja (1985, Kwara) and Ayuba Giwa (1983, Edo).
But the proposal did not sail through before Justice Onnoghen’s exit.
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